Social Media for Writers: How I grew my Instagram audience by more than 40k followers in seven months

February 03, 2019
Last year my Instagram followers went from 600 to over 43,500, which was mind-blowing to me. In this post, I look into a few of the ways I grew my audience.

Back in 2017 I started tracking my social media stats - something I'm now very glad of, because I can tell you with absolute certainty that I started 2018 with 637 Instagram followers… 

And ended it with 43,500.

40,000-odd followers might not sound too impressive, but to me, considering the size of my audience this time last year, it was a huge leap.

I gained almost 43,000 followers within the year - actually, within just seven months, after the release of The Kissing Booth movie on Netflix on May 11th.

Admittedly, this is a bit of an exceptional circumstance, but here's what I was expecting to see: one big spike in my audience over May, and then it remaining pretty steady, with a very slow, very small increase after the initial hype had died down.

This, however, didn't happen. 

We're now at nearly nine months since the movie was released, and to give you an idea of how my audience on Instagram is still growing, I gained over 1,000 followers in just the last month - and I shared maybe a dozen posts during that time.

I can pinpoint one point where I saw a huge spike overnight, because I remember it extremely clearly. Mostly because it was my birthday, partly because I was out getting drunk with people from work and obsessively checking it through till midnight, to see if I could hit 23,000 followers before my 23rd birthday was over. (I did. It was very cool. Everyone thought it was very cool. Karaoke ensued.)

This huge spike was, as I mentioned, my birthday. It is also, by pure coincidence, the birthday of my two main characters, Lee and Elle. (Genuinely coincidence: I didn't pick that date, and the scriptwriter just chose it not knowing.) I shared a post on Instagram about it, and later in the day, both Joey King and Joel Courtney (who play Elle and Lee) shared their own posts wishing me a happy birthday, and happy birthday to their characters.

And these are people with huge numbers of followers (I think Joey has almost 9 million now), so I can definitely put down a solid 15,000-odd followers to their tagging me in posts.

But like I said: that 40k+ increase in followers wasn't all at once, and has been steadily growing over the past several months. So let's dive a little deeper into what's driven that.

1. Sharing 'behind the scenes' or 'promo' type content

Whether it was stills from the movie, pictures of the new book cover, pictures I took on set, I shared a bunch of stuff around The Kissing Booth. I wrote several blog posts about the movie too, which I promoted through Instagram. I figured if my audience were people who'd read the book and watched the movie, that was the kind of content they'd like to see - so this point is less about the fact I had a movie out and more knowing my audience and recognising what they responded to.

2. Using all the hashtags

It's a terrible idea to clutter the caption of your post with more than about two/three very relevant hashtags. It looks messy, it turns people off the post, and distracts from the message you're trying to share.

However. The comments are a great place for adding all the tags you want to use without having that negative impact on the caption.

I'll add around twenty hashtags in a comment on each post, and even got my Twitter and Instagram followers to suggest a fandom name, and vote on my top favourites, so I could have a bespoke hashtag - #kissquad. I looked through hashtags people were using around the movie, too, to include those. Hell, I even tagged my own name! I do this on everything I post, though, not just TKB-related things.

3. Running a giveaway

I did plan, back in the days of having only a few hundred followers, to run a giveaway when I hit 1,000 followers. I don't remember how many I had when I did run an Instagram giveaway, but I ran it around September with a signed Brazilian edition of my book. I'd researched how to run an Instagram giveaway (which I may talk more about in a later post). 

I decided on: 'Follow and tag a friend in the comments to enter.' This way, people would introduce my account to new people, who would follow to enter the giveaway. And I have a big audience in Brazil, so that helped too. I also ran a giveaway on Twitter, which I promoted on my Instagram (and again - used all the relevant hashtags for a giveaway).

4. Regular posts, and at peak times

Instagram insights are a brilliant tool - they tell you when your audience engage most on a weekly and daily basis, so you can pick a time to share a post when your audience are most active. For me, that's in the evenings. I tried to post at least once or twice a day as often as I could - and made use of saving a huge bank of draft posts so that if I've got nothing in particular to share, I can use one of them. 

Again - it's about knowing your audience! I think the Instagram insights are only available with a business account, but that's really easy to do via your settings - and free. Of course. This is me talking, I love free things.

5. Responding to my audience

If people comment on my posts, I almost always at least 'like' them, and try to reply - especially if they ask me a question, or leave a particularly thoughtful message. 

I didn't (and don't) respond to DMs because I was getting too many to keep track of, but I would go and check on my latest post(s) and skim through the comments to respond to them in some way. And I read as many of the DMs as I can, even if I don't reply to them.

I wasn't able to reply to every comment or DM in the weeks after the film was released, so I started using Instagram lives - I'd put some time in my diary to do them, promote them and tell my audience in advance, and then use that to talk to them and answer their questions. It was a great way for me to engage with them and took an hour at a time, rather than sitting down and replying to every single comment for hours and hours and hours.

Like I said: yes, okay, I will admit that a lot of this growth can be attributed to the release of the movie in May - but I think the consistent growth is down to the way I capitalised on that by understanding my audience, through research (like what hashtags they were using) and analytics, and by engaging with them as much as I could. 

And that's the beauty of social media - at least for me, as a writer: being able to have that connection with your audience and your readers.

Do you have any tips for organically growing your Instagram audience? I'd love to hear, so share in the comments!

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